War in the East – 21 Feb 1855



Search the library for more like this

Below is another excerpt from “The War” by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper, its a daily account from the battlelines during the Crimean War (157 years ago).

Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here or search our library here.

Russian Mode of Conducting a Sortie

Wednesday 21st February 1855

The northerly wind continued to blow, and in the Crimea frost and snow are ever borne on its wings till April. The thermometer marked 20 degrees early in the morning, but as the sun shone out soon after eight o’clock and the wind was not high, the day was endurable, and even enjoyable to any one who could move about and was well clad. To the men in the trenches, who were necessarily obliged to keep quiet, and whose supply of fuel was scanty, the cold must have been very trying; but the warm clothing and long boots enabled them to bear the severity of the weather, which would have been fatal to many of them had they been in the same state as those poor fellows on whom winter fell with all its rigour while they had got but the rag of a regimental coat and the regimental blanket.

The Russians during the night made a small demonstration against us, thinking that the sentries and advanced posts might be caught sleeping or away from their posts. Their usual mode of conducting a sortie on the scale which they have hitherto preferred is to send on some thirty men in advance of a party of 500 or 800, in loose skirmishing order. These men advance stealthily, en tirailleur, up to the line of our sentries and picquets, and feel their way cautiously, in order to ascertain if there is a weak and undefended point for the advance of the main body. If the firing is slack, the latter immediately push on, rush into the trenches, bayonet as many as resist, and, dragging off all the men they can get as prisoners, return to the town as rapidly as possible.

In these affairs the French suffer most. Any man, however weak, can rush across a landing into the nearest room, and do damage in it before he is kicked out. The French are so close to the Russians they may be said to live next door to them. The latter can form in a small body, under cover of their works, at any hour in the night, and dash into the works ere our allies can get together to drive them back again. Last night some thirty-five men advanced upon the sentries stationed in front of Major Chapman’s batteries (the left attack), but they were instantly perceived and challenged. They replied “Ruski!” and were at once fired upon. The Riflemen in the pits which have been made in front of these lines gave them a spattering volley, and the Tirailleurs at once retreated, and, with the body in reserve, returned to their lines. It is strange they should have given such a reply to the sentries challenge, but the men all declare the Russians used the word I have mentioned, which would seem to be the Russians’ notion of their own name in the English tongue.

Excerpt from The War 1855 by W H Russell – Correspondent to The Times.

This volume contains the letters of The Times Correspondent from the seat of war in the East – The Crimean War – the first war with war correspondents.


Further Reading and External Links

Maps, Plans and Pictures of the Crimean War

William Howard Russell on Wikipedia

William Howard Russell on BikWil